Given the high numbers of persons experiencing homelessness along the LA River right-of-way, there is routine patrolling and inspection of the LA River for homeless encampments by LA County Public Works, US Army Corps of Engineers, and City of LA Sanitation.
There are shared concerns expressed by these organizations as well as community members that the presence or the perception of encampments affect the operation and maintenance of the channel, may compromise its water quality, could discourage others from using the river’s amenities, can heighten public health hazards, and may pose threats to the physical safety of persons’ experiencing homelessness. Following the identification of encampments, outreach staff are deployed as a critical resource in connecting persons experiencing homelessness to the LA County Coordinated Entry System (CES) regulated by independent joint powers authority Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA).
LA County, several municipalities, and many non-profit groups compose these numerous outreach teams that work with individuals along the river. The system assists persons experiencing homelessness in entering the CES, accessing emergency housing, interim/temporary or permanent supportive housing, services, and healthcare.
Through Measure H funding, LAHSA, Los Angeles County Healthy Agency, Los Angeles County Health Initiative, and the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health have collaborated with the United Way of Greater Los Angeles to sponsor organizations, such as Homeless Health Care Los Angeles, in their recruitment and training of new outreach staff. Outreach staff often have a background in social work, but also have extensive knowledge of first aid, chronic health and mental health concerns, substance abuse, and domestic abuse. Outreach staff are trained to distill individualized needs of persons experiencing homelessness and help them to secure appropriate housing, healthcare, and other supportive services. They also receive robust training to serve with sound, effective communication and specialize in harm reduction, cultural barriers, and disaster response.
Outreach staff are more heavily deployed along the river before the flood season. Teams identify and visit homeless encampments, encouraging people to relocate outside of the channel for safety reasons while simultaneously informing them of available resources. Additionally, outreach staff visit persons experiencing homelessness at least two weeks in advance of channel maintenance requiring the cleanup of their encampments. Lastly, outreach staff may visit encampments along the river to facilitate their relocation and access to services if community members file a complaint and request a cleanup. During cleanups they may also assist to store personal belongings that would otherwise be discarded.
Outreach staff are an essential asset in assisting jurisdictions in river cleanup, but more importantly, serve the diverse needs of persons experiencing homelessness along the river. Due to the recent influx of persons experiencing homelessness throughout the region and along the river channel, there needs to be increased availability of outreach staff and resources. The river well serves as a conduit for these vital service providers. There should be continued and expanded support of outreach staff through increased training, additional hiring of staffers, new housing options, and more specialized resources to protect the health and safety of some of the county’s most vulnerable residents. A bolstered outreach network could help facilitate more effective improvements enhancing the river as a resource for all.